I HAVE TO TRY

When I get this question:

Do you ever see yourself self-publishing? Why or why not?

This is my answer.

I’m a go-big-or-go-home personality, so I HAVE TO TRY for my own sake. It’s a ME THING. I want to know that I am good enough, that an agent looks at what I have and says, “Yes, this works and let’s sell this baby!” Now this reason might be silly and it really isn’t a good one for a lot of people, but for me, it is. I like the idea of being vetted—I suppose. I like the idea of seeing my books on shelves, in stores, etc. And I get that those dreams can be accomplished via self publishing. I do.

Self publishing has its perks—100% of the profits are yours. That alone can and could say it all. Money speaks to EVERYONE. Also, you have complete control. Another thing others love. It’s hard to turn it over to someone else when it comes to covers and titles and edits. But for me, those two things aren’t a big deal. With the right agent, it’s a team effort toward the same dream.

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Any one can self publish. It’s a flood gate for anyone to step through, and sadly, there is a lot of garbage that fits through that width. Now, certainly, there is some wonderful material that is self-published and should be celebrated and promoted, because it’s awesome. That said, traditionally publishing narrows that flood gate, screening the work before it gets through. And not all traditionally published material is awesome. Getting through those doors or windows isn’t impossible, but tougher. And for those that go big, key holes. They’re getting through key holes!

An agent, an editor, a team, etc. knows what it is going to take to get a book sold and they have their thumb on the vein—they feel the pulse of the industry, and that’s huge, to me. Self promoting one’s work is certainly going to be a part of the business, regardless of which route you go, and since there are varying degrees within publishing, from the big wigs to a small press, the same goes for the amount of marketing on my part. To say I won’t have to do marking if I traditionally publishing is kind of a lie. But what I do like is the idea of building a brand, with a professional team behind me.

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I’ve personally met agents, sat through classes and meetings with them, shared laughs and drinks with them, and while I know not all agents are created equal, and I am absolutely an Agent Advocate due this kind of interaction. I’ve gained immeasurable lessons from these experiences. Even after doing a huge Revise and Resubmit with an agent, which ultimately ended in a rejection, I learned something. That I can do hard things.

I watch their careers from afar, aka Twitter and such, partly out of awe, but mostly to see if what I write would be a good fit, if it’s on their Wishlist. It’s amazing and encouraging when they promote a book I’ve heard of, too. They’re behind their authors.

I also know they’re not super humans who can make my book a best seller over night with a movie deal on the side. They’re human beings, who have deadlines to meet, eat left-overs while reading through their slush piles in hopes of finding something that they will fall in love with and can sell, and you know, work hard to keep their job. They love books and the craft, and they get rejections from editors, and have to reject authors. It’s demanding and it’s not all rainbows and book signings. Heck, I haven’t got the slightly clue what muck they wade through, I just know there is some. Lots, probably.

But sometimes, it is book signings, and contracts, and deals. And sometimes, it’s even more that that. Sometimes.

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So for now, I trust my gut.

And it’s saying not to give up that dream yet. It says that I’ll know when, and if, I should shut the window and try the door, and if that doesn’t work, then I’ll be ready for the flood gates.

Yanno?

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And so that we’re clear, I can cheer on my author friends who chose to self publish, just as much as I can champion those who do make it with an agent at their side. Your path is not my path. My journey is mine, mistakes and all.

 

And, ultimately, I think traditionally publishing is possible with hard work, lots of editing, dedication, commitment, and a little luck. And it helps if you have one hell of a story.

The iWrite Retreat, and Why You Should Go To One

This past weekend, I attended the iWrite Retreat in Heber, Utah, and to my horror and delight I started a story.

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OVER.

As in, I deleted the whole thing. And started over. And it was so painful and scary and disheartening. And here’s why: After I’d read everything I had written, it just felt like it wasn’t right.

That’s the worst.

Feeling it isn’t right?  What the heck? It’s a story. It’s not a life-altering decision, like having a baby or getting married. Feeling the story wasn’t at it’s best, I made the hard decision to scrap it all.

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I highlighted every chapter, and dragged it down, and put it in the trash. (Thank you, Scrivener, for having a trash can, where I can trash something and know deep down it’s not gone forever.)

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Broken spirited, I wrote that first painful sentence, again. I crossed my ankles, closed my eyes and kept going.

When I peeked, I was half way done with that first chapter.

I squeezed my eyes again, and kept going.

And when I FELT like it was done, I opened my eyes, and there it was. A fresh, newborn draft.

I asked a friend if I could read it out loud to her. (Which I highly recommend reading your stuff out loud. You catch a ton of, shall we say crap? when you do that.) I began reading. When I finished, I looked up from my screen, and bravely asked: “Okay, what’s missing.”

We discussed points that could be improved, and I didn’t “edit” but I added words of clarification. It wasn’t perfect, but it was good-enough-for-now and I created chapter two, and repeated the process.

Then I read it out loud to her. And we repeated the clarification process, and I moved on. Hello, chapter three.

Well, by the time I completed chapter three, I had gained a few listeners. I’m not sure if they were truly invested, or just taking a break from their own writing, or felt obligated to listen because I’m loud and demanding and so big in spirit at these quiet retreats. I just dunno.

Imagine Sharpay…

 

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… in a library. That’s right. That’s me. (Hard to imagine that drama queen with a book in her hands. I know.)

By chapter four, I was more confident they were interested as the laughing was genuine and heartfelt and at one point, I thought one of the girls might pee her pants, she was laughing that hard. And I got to laughing because I tend to think I’m funny when I write and also because laughing is addicting.

Over the course of the three days, we did this. I wrote a chapter, then we’d have a reading session. We stayed up until 2:30am Saturday night to get to a kissing scene, recklessly abandoning sleep. I kept writing until they passed out, because the words were flowing and it FELT like I’d tapped into that something everyone calls THE MUSE.

On Sunday morning, I was half alive. We’re supposed to be checked out by 10 am, and after our cleaning and packing up was done, we found ourselves in another reading session, because I’d cranked out two more chapters. And we were laughing again, and I was so sad to say goodbye.

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I drove home, wishing I was a dragon writer so I could keep writing, but instead memorize lyrics to songs to stay awake.

Thank you FUN and TAYLOR SWIFT for carrying me home. I should totally dubsmash Enchanted and Carry On, but I’ll spare the world that kind of obnoxiousness.

And my point of this post is to say: Never underestimate the value of a retreat. Be it iWrite or otherwise. Just go. Do it for yourself. Go be inspired, be productive, and when you do, just know how grateful that one extrovert is. She know’s she an emotional vampire, sucking you dry of your energy. But she is so thankful you put up with her. Because without you, she can’t find her muse.

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Also, be brave enough to following those FEELINGS. Today, when I shared the newer first chapter with a friend who had read that original chapter, she looked at me and said, “It’s the same, yet different. Better.”

And the end story? I cut 21K words. Wrote 23K. (Can you believe that? Me, either!) Made new friends. Ate like a queen. Slept a total of 16 hours in 3.5 days, and it was 100% worth it.

 

Do you know of a writing retreat that is full of extroverts?  If so, you totally gotta tell me. Okay?

Last Minute {Conference Notes}

Saturday, May 7th, about 3pm. The Last Day of Storymakers 2016.

It wasn’t hard to adjust my pitch with Marisa Corvisiero when I was asked. By giving up my slot, it would keep other nervous authors and the agents on time. Besides, I hadn’t plan on having one to begin with so what did I have to lose by going last? Some of the authors waiting to pitch were doing it for their first time. They’d been sweating over this ten minute moment for months. They’d researched and read all about the agent they were headed in to meet. But this last minute change didn’t worry me.

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I wasn’t. To be truthful, I wasn’t even sure what story I was going to pitch. Not my recommendation to anyone who’s going to pitch to an agent. But I have my reasons.

Back it up a bit. Friday, May 6th, roughly 1 am, and things are getting fuzzy.

Classes start in a matter of hours, yet I’m awake as is most of the conference staff. Michelle Wilson, Agent Coordinator, posts on the conference FB page that they’ve had a few pitch sessions open up, and if anyone wants one, to PM her right away. The competition for these slots is certainly impacted by the late hour, but it’s still a race to get one. I see the post, and figure, “Why the h*** not?”

This was supposed to be the year I laid low at conference. Half of the agents attending had already REJECTED ME. Jenny Bent, Marisa Corvisiero, and Marlene Stringer. After a full Revise and Resubmit the year previously, which resulted in alas, a rejection, I was burned out. My faith in myself had been whittled down to a sliver, and while I was and am still a huge advocate for agents and traditionally publishing, I was just DONE.

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I’d go to classes and just hope the instructors lessons would seep into my brain.

Except.

I just said yes to Michelle, which meant I had a pitch. I paid for it, even. And because I’m a little crazy and my roommate Rachel and I are wide awake and scrambling at the late hour to land these pitches, I end up with two pitch sessions. Because, why the h***not? I’m not a quitter, or one to pass up an opportunity. Last minute changes are fine.

Friday Morning, 8 am.

I haven’t slept. My brain wouldn’t let me. It played out every good and bad scenario of pitching all night. My eyelids are glued to my eye balls, and I have so little energy or will to lift my head off my pillow, and brain cells are still yelling: GO! I need to print my query letter, since one of the agents wants to look at it as part of the pitch. Plus, CLASS!

9am.

I print 2 query letters, because again, I DON’T KNOW WHAT I AM DOING. WHO AM I PITCHING TO AGAIN? I haven’t had time to do any research. I only know Writer’s House is a big name in the industry, and that Marisa has rejected me—but she’s on my agent wish list because something in her bio said, “Yes, query her,” a year and a half ago.

9:20am.

I’m sitting in Jennifer Nielsen’s class, taking notes, but tears smear my black and pink ink.

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I kept alternating pens to satisfy my creative need, but she’s got me bawling with her inspirational message. I think she wrote it just for me. Gina, you have two choices. Quit, or Make it. Get published, work harder, don’t give up. I know you’ve had it rough. That you’ve come this far, you’ve done the work, you’re 99% of the way there. You even wrote that one story that made you so happy you forgot all the hard stuff.

How did Jennifer know I’d done that? Wrote LEVEL WITH ME without a care in the world?

How did she know I’d shelved FOR THE LOVE because I couldn’t seem to breathe life into it anymore? That there is no foreseeable future for that story, and that I’m up against a concrete wall, that has no door? giphy5

How does she know all of this?

I did just what she said was necessary. Put that first story away, took ten big breaths, and wrote something else. That something else is a light-hearted Romeo and Juliet retelling with extra kissing. And then I called it good. I DID NOT CARE what a soul thought about it and had no intentions of doing squat with it. I just wrote it for me.

Except.

That pitch is coming.

1:30pm

Calm, collected, and still unsure, time slows down for me. I sat down with Brianne Johnson who’s hair is shiny and her smile is reserved. She’s with Writer’s House, after all, so it makes sense that this feels big. Last minute I decided to share LEVEL WITH ME with her instead of FOR THE LOVE. I know it’s not high concept YA like she’s looking for, and that FOR THE LOVE is more up her alley, but I’m done caring. We talk, she smiles when she pieces together that Abby June is also A.J. and how that complicates things. I ask her, “Have you sold anything like this?” There’s this long pause, wherein my head voice says, “She’s sold a dozen romances like this.” She actually says, “No,” like she’s surprised at herself. “But I know some editors who want some YA with more romance.” She requests fifty pages, and I leave, feeling neither deflated or high. Maybe I should’ve felt high, but I can tell she’s not sure, and I know that it’s super hard to say NO to any author’s face.

A little later, I’m in class again. The last class before dinner.

I’m a bit of a mouth in Marisa Corvisiero’s class, asking questions, speaking from my experience on querying. At one point she calls a query letter a critique letter. I lean over to Serene, my other roommate and super spectacular friend, and whisper, “She meant Query letter, not critique letter, I think.” Marisa stops talking, pins me in my seat as she stares at me, then laughs lightly, admitting the slip up. She calls me loud or honest, I’m not sure, but it’s in a teasing way and then she picks up where she left off. She’s human, no one faults her for that slip up. And since I’m not the kind to die on the inside for that sort of thing, I just laugh to myself. She’s got mom ears, because I SERIOUSLY WHISPERED THAT. Some time later, we’re twenty minutes over. Serene has already slipped out—she won a dinner appointment with an agent like I did last year and didn’t want to be late. The class as a whole is still listening though. And I want to learn, and I want to be good at this, but when Marisa asks about the time, I voice my unfiltered thoughts. “We’re 20 over, but we like you. But we are hungry.”

After dinner, I find her and I issue an apology, and Marisa laughs, asking if she looks like the type to be offended. Later she comments how if that had happened in NY, people would’ve walked out on her, and how kind we all are for not doing that.

I think she kinda fell in love with Storymakers because of that.

Friday, late. After the Mix and Mingle.

We talk the night away. I can’t express how much of a late crowd we are. We are the late night crowd. If you’re looking to not sleep, join my crowd.

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Saturday Morning, 9 am.

It’s harder to move my arms today than it should be. But I’m in class on time—this time in Jenny Bent’s class, and we laugh and learn. And somehow my entire Tupperware of Dove chocolate, Cinnamon Bears, and York Minis disappears. This is a big deal, people. Without my supply, I’m going to crash and burn, but I don’t realize it’s gone until around lunch time, and all efforts to relocate it prove to be in VAIN. (Writers are also chocolate thieves, apparently. Still, I love them.)

I volunteered months ago to welcome instructors and kick off their class, so that makes me late to mine, but oh well. Then I serve as a time keeper, which is exactly that. Keep the agents and authors on time. When I arrive, we’re falling behind, and with Kaylee and Michelle, we work to get people back on track.

3:40pm My Original Pitch Time. (Also, I love that my name is in that word. Always took it as a sign.)

Someone else goes in to pitch their story, instead of me. It’s fine. Really. I gave my slot up. While I wait, Rachel talks me out of pitching all these bad ideas I have. I think it’s nerves, but my hands aren’t clammy. I’m now scheduled for 4pm, and I’ll be Marisa’s very last pitch.

When I go in, I find myself telling Marisa the time keepers are off to prep for the book signing, and I need to keep my own time. (Can I just say right here I have 5 books I brought for the books signing, and I’m looking forward it?) Marisa indicates she’s free until seven—and I die a little. A three hour pitch seems like a bad idea.

We find a comfortable spot to visit so they can set up the book signing, and we just TALK.

She’s a blast and it’s comfortable and enjoyable and we bounce around all these random subjects from the 10 year-old girl who pitched a story to her, to living in Idaho, to hockey, to my writing LEVEL WITH ME, to the actual pitch of the story. At this, I tell her it’s a light Romeo and Juliet . . . 

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. . . heavy on the kissing, with no awkward death scenes at the end. To which she says, “I can sell that!”

Wouldn’t that be awesome? I think.

We chat about my Cupid story, and how I’ve cut it from 135K words down to 116K, down to 82K. I tangent about the R and R, leaving out names, and then I confess. I’ve queried her with this Cupid story and she rejected it and rightly so. I sent it to her at the hefty 135K. Not once is she making any indication that we’ve talked too long or that she needs to go.

She tells me to send her the query, again, that her intern probably rejected it (Which is true) and the synopsis, and maybe “we can figure out what’s going on with it.” I can tell she’s not as into this fantasy story as much as the lovey-dovey kissing book, and that’s fine by me.

We talk about how I’d like to do three Idaho Falls romance stories, all based around some real-life things happening in my hometown.

We’re interrupted off and on, but it’s not a big deal and about 45 minutes later, I’ve decided if I ever have to pitch again, I want to go last. That’s for sure. We’re joined by some of my favorite people, Serene and Rachel, and eventually others, and Marisa makes no effort to excuse herself. We even tell her we don’t mean to keep her. She takes more pitches from anyone who sits down and is willing to share their pitch in this Shark Tank setting. It’s fascinating, it’s encouraging. It’s full of laughter and interesting points of view from Marisa, and I can’t bring myself to give up my seat next to her. Not for a book signing, or the bathroom, for that matter. I want every minute.

Marisa’s nearly late to the Gala, but she seems fine with this. She texts Rachel (I’m a little jealous, but moving on) hoping to join us after the award ceremony, and she does.

She spends nearly three more hours talking and laughing with us. I keep looking at Serene, and we share this unspoken “Is this real?” look. I can’t put my finger on it—why is Marisa still with us? Isn’t she tired of us?  Whatever the reason, she stays. 

When I crawl into bed at 4 am, I’m positive she’s in love with Storymakers, and the people it produces, and the spirit of our conference. That it’s less about me, Serene, and Rachel, and more about how she’s really enjoying herself.

Eyes closed for the night, I’m reliving some things. I think I sang a Barbie song at one point. Was Marisa still there? I dunno. I kinda hope so. Haha. I recall Marisa teasing me that I’m obsessed with kissing (which is true)

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and I know I have a concrete list of labels she gave me. I thought it was so funny that she kept describing me out loud, I started writing them down. Loud, honest, unfiltered, trouble maker, and pickable (meaning, I can be picked on and take it.) By the time I get to my Idaho home, she’s tweeted me, calling me Kissie and Miss Kissie. I’ll take it.

I’m impressed with her work ethic and drive, which was so evident as she continued to take pitches long after mine. Maybe she was still looking for that ONE STORY, but I don’t think so. I think she came to the conference to find authors to work with, to meet her standing clients, to teach us.

Above all, it was fun to learn about her life outside of being an agent, because AGENTS ARE PEOPLE. They love books and stories and while they juggle all the ins and outs of the industry, they’re just like the rest of us in so many ways.

And in the end, her presence combined with Jennifer’s class rekindled my desire to keep searching for that door in the concrete wall. To push myself harder.

I was attending Storymakers the way some people attend church. It’s just WHAT YOU DO on Sunday. I went because I WRITE.

And while I learned plenty, in the end, I FELT that heartbeat that feeds my writing.

Sunday Night, 9pm.

I’m out cold. And sleep for 13 hours. Trust me. I enjoyed every minute.

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The Army Behind Me

I’ve been busy working on LEVEL WITH ME, posting a chapter at a time to Wattpad, and I’m excited how it’s doing and that I’m nearly done with it. But that aside, I’ve actually been feeling a little blue.

And it’s not because of the weather..

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I got a rejection letter that cut super deep, stinging beyond the pale, and robbing me of my voice. It’s really hard to cry for help, too, when that happens.

I shed plenty of hot tears, lost a few nights of sleep, and haven’t been the same since.

Which isn’t fun.

On the brink of quitting, I wandered around for a few days. It didn’t help one bit when my six year old gave me this “letter”…

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…or when my sweet heart told me that I was grieving, and that it was normal to be feeling all the feels. That just made it all the more difficult, I swear. Their hugs and patience with me as I mourned my own loss and struggled to find my footing is remarkable, and sends me spiraling. They put up with a lot, and I know they’re supportive of me, no matter which road I take with writing. They’re my first line of defense, and they are happy to protect me from anything.

But damn those writer friends of mine.

They’re less inclined to let me wander off. Instead, they’ve got their strings wrapped around me–strings I’ve allowed –and they started pulling right away when they saw me slipping.

Just weeks away from the First Chapter Contest for LDStorymakers16, I started getting hit up hard for help.

Help me?
Do you have a few minutes to look over my chapter?
You’re so good at this stuff–can you take a look at my first chapter?
I trust you–and I want your feedback.

I need you.

And lest you think I resent them, I don’t. Their words and questions pulled on those strings, lifting my lifeless body off the ground (or out of bed or off the couch as it were.) Stupid writer friends. They really know how to mend broken wings with words, and with each chapter that arrived in my inbox, my heart started to beat a little harder.

And I hate and love that there’s a country song for this, too.

 

So, now here I am, with a few Wattpadders dying for the last chapters of LEVEL WITH ME, and I’ve got a confirmation email that says I’m registered for Storymakers, and not one, but two story ideas are budding in my brain like tulips in spring. Not to mention that months ago I agreed to host a SE Idaho Writer’s Get Together at my house this week, wherein I would be preparing the food. Oh, and let’s not forget that I’m in charge of monthly writing meetings for our writing group and they’re counting on me, or the fact that I have writer friends waiting for me to give them feedback.

Even if I wanted to quit, they won’t let me. I can’t let me.  The pressure isn’t bad. It’s good. It’s helpful to feel needed. So while I may have taken a break from my own words, I’ve been pulled into the worlds my friends have created with theirs, and that feels good.

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Even though the tears haven’t flowed for a while now, I still feel the pain on the inside and question if what I’m doing is worth it, when after five years I have nothing published.

The only thing I really have to show for all my years of writing, aren’t things.

What I really have is an army of writer friends. Who totally get it.

Like a Blind Date

Let’s revisit how I feel about querying, shall we?

Remember I said it’s like trying to date the Quarterback?

Well, it’s also like going on a one-sided blind date. Which is super awkward for the person who’s going into the date blind.

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Sam Hunt has a song right now that I LOVE so much. It’s titled TAKE YOUR TIME. Now, if you don’t know this song, you should listen to it right now.

Go on. I’ll wait.sam_hunt_0_1418211245

See. Told you it was a good one. Now, I get that it’s more romance-y than querying, but think about it. (From a non-stalker point of view.)

I do want to take an agent’s time.
I know their name.
I don’t mean to be a bother, but I do have to say HI and see if we’re meant for each other.

But that’s super awkward when they have no clue who I am and I come out of the woodwork. It’s so much easier to personalize (hence, the word) a query when yanno, you’ve MET IN PERSON.

Cold Queries are COLD. And standing out isn’t a piece of cake unless you’re already a household name. Or have a career that has placed you on a perfect path for publication. OR USE YOUR VOICE, and present  a solid story pitch that has hook and heart.

So, my point is this. I queried FOR THE LOVE over a year ago to this *ONE*RAD*AGENT* that I’ve had my eye on for a lonnnngish time. The query was short, only told Lenox’s pitch, and was “complete” at 135K. Yeah. (Hey, don’t judge. I still had a lot to learn, and still do.)

She sent me a super kind rejection, and rightly so. She said she felt it was very interesting, but wasn’t right for her.

Since then, FTL and I have been through lots of  edits, and recently through the ringer, but it’s helped me, and the story grow. It now sits at 82K and I’m ready to try querying again.

So, what did I do yesterday?

That’s right. I sent out 3 queries.

1 went to *SUPER*RAD.*
1 went to a small press, that had taken interest in FTL, but the editor is no longer with company, leaving FTL hanging. (Did some research and was encouraged to resend it.)
And 1 went to a agent that is my BLIND DATE for the purpose of this story.

Well, here’s the part where I remind anyone out there in webville who’s reading this: AGENTS are human.

Some seem to be SUPERHUMAN, with their client lists and online presence and big personalities, but they’re really just super humans, with big hearts, unequivocal love for the written word, and tasked with the job of finding authors and stories to give us readers. They leave bread in the toaster as they rush out the door, buy milk, order contact lenses, and deal with auto-corrections in texts–just like the rest of us.

Based on some advice from a dear friend who takes time to mentor me occasionally, I prepared a new query for the agent tried over a year ago. I used the first sentence to announce just that, too. Here’s my query:

*Name of Agent,*

I admit, I queried you a year ago with this project. Right there might be reason enough to bypass me, but I wanted to resubmit FOR THE LOVE to you because it’s been through the ringer since that first query. I attended a conference–LDStorymakers 2015–and received some invaluable, critical feedback from an agent that I have applied to the entire manuscript. While it may not have been the project for you in 2014, perhaps it is now.

 

*BOOK PITCH*

 

FOR THE LOVE is a fantasy complete at 82,000 words. I’ve attached the revised first five pages as instructed—still love your website, by the way, and your fun facts on querying, and that you haven’t blogged in a while, story of my life, right there—and I’m kind of hoping to high heaven you deleted my first query. Then again, if you compare the two, maybe it’ll show my growth.

I look forward to hearing from you, and Cheers! for the new year.

Gina Larsen
*personal info*

 

Okay, so that fancy query got a killer reply in under 2 hours!

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Can I just say I was thrilled without sounding crazy? Sure, I wanted her to request pages, but look at that. So encouraging, so real, and so human. How many times have we fallen out of love with a genre, a series, or a character/authors work? Usually, it’s not because we hate it. We just need something ELSE. Something DIFFERENT.

I can’t fault her at all for her honestly or feelings.

I broke the rules, I think, because I replied back:

Response

 

AND YOU KNOW WHAT?

SHE REPLIED AGAIN!

 

She said 82K was perfect, and to definitely keep her in mind for the contemporary.

And that’s it, folks.

Be kind, have hope, and query on.

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I’ve been toying around with using my voice and personality to write a query to some agents that I’ve been looking at, and there’s days where it feels like I’m in a bar, hitting on them. Don’t wanna come on to strong, but I wanna be like Sam Hunt, and just put myself out there.

Think I could use this as intro to my query letter?

*Dear Agent,*

I’m one of those people who actually loved blind dates back when I was dating, but can we admit that a cold query letter is worse than a blind date? While I thrive the first few minutes of awkward introductions and find the get-to-know-you questions that follow delicious, that’s just not happening in a query. Still. Unless you put yourself out there, you never know. So, it’s no surprise that I write about Cupid.  Except, he’s not the Cupid you think he is.

Probably not, I know.

 

 

Feeling the Blah-Hum-Bug, in January

It’s the start of a new year, and I’ve been feeling overwhelmed and “meh” by the number of Facebook posts about fresh starts and resolutions.  So, needless to say, I’m scrolling through my feed.

I’m like a New Year’s Scrooge.

My list of things I want to accomplish grows by the day, yet I feel unmotivated even though I want to make headway on some of these things.

Is it a Christmas hangover?

Perhaps it’s all the extra calories that I’ve consumed. Literally weighing me down.

Trust me, I’m not going to be giving up sugar or suggest that I should start working out. Not here or now. I’m just thinking through my figures as I sit in my Lazy Boy, avoiding some editing and trying to warm up by the fire.

I hope I’m not the only one feeling the blah-hum-bug.

Thinking on it further, this extraneous lack of excitement for a new year could also be that we’re at the end of our 2 week holiday break, and the amount of cleaning I’ve done over the last two weeks has finally gotten on my last nerve. The kids are in pretty good spirits, but it’s been worse than summer break all cooped up, since the temperatures have been under 20* and in the negatives.

And as far as writing and reading go? Uhhhh.

All writers go through slumps and I wouldn’t say I’m camped out in some valley, but I’m certainly not enjoying the view from some peak. I’d say it feels more like I’m 55 miles into a 500 mile hike.

As soon as we get back to our regular schedules, I intend to double knot my shoelaces, heft my backpack up a little higher, and hit the trail.

 

 

 

 

So, NaNo–You In?

This is an odd November for me.

It’s NaNoWriMo time, and I’m not quite into it the way I have been in the past. I think it has something to do with the fact that a week prior, I was appointed to our region’s Municipal Liaison. (That means I’m in charge of the NaNo-ing in my area.)

ML Image

I have lots of great friends cheering me on and offering their support, but still, it’s throwing me off.

I’m only 300ish words behind, and I’m all for helping grow the writing community in my area, and I’ve never had a problem with being in charge of stuff.

I’m settled into our new home, purchased lovely and fun Thanksgiving/Fall decor to spruce up the place, and have hosted the first three writing meetings with relative ease. We’ve had a wonderful turn out, lots of enthusiasm and laughs.

Still, it’s an odd November.

Maybe it’s because I’ve grown so accustomed to Editing, that I’ve lost that Creating/Drafting/WritingNewWordsIsFun mojo. Get this. I’m missing Editing. Like Editing and I were more than friends. I didn’t even know that was possible.

It’s not like Editing and I will ever part ways. At the very least, I hope this feeling doesn’t stick around for too long, because I have writing to do. Really, it’s a matter of learning how to take off the Editing Cap and put the Drafting one on. ‘Cept, there’s not a magic wand for this kind of thing.

So, if you’re tackling new words this month, I wish you luck. Push on and let your local ML NaNo Leader help you! If you don’t know who it is, you should be able to find out by visiting THIS WEBSITE.

If you have tips on restoring that FirstLoveFeeling for drafting, please share. I could use the advice.

3 Tips from a Writing Retreat Survivor

I recently attended a writing retreat, hosted by iWriteNetwork, and it was absolutely divine. The food, the company, the work ethic, the conversation, the motivation, and the support made this one of the best retreats I’ve attended. And I’ve gone to my fair share. I’ve even hosted a few myself.  They’re the extrovert’s dream. But if you’re more of an introvert, they can be less than a dream.

Here’s just three tips for surviving, regardless of your personality. These don’t fall into the standard category of What To Pack, though.

After you’ve got your power cord, head phones, and comfortable writing outfits, think about this:

1. Internet Loss. It happens. Whether the towers go down or the band width won’t support everyone trying to tap into Pandora, be prepared to write without internet. *blank stares* I know. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “but I can’t even…”

Yes, you can. Download some tunes if you need them, get your google docs set up so you don’t need WiFi, and do your research at home. If you need a thesaurus, good night, bring a hard copy. Like a boy scout, be prepared. Now, if your computer goes ka-poot on you, I’m so sorry. I don’t know what to say. Pen and Pad?

2. Water. All that sitting down isn’t super healthy, so you get up, walk around, and stretch like a good author, but if your not peeing every time you do break, you’re probably not getting enough water. Perhaps the water tastes funny, because that happens when we leave the comforts of home.  I happened to drink soft water at a retreat, and that salted liquid didn’t do me any good. Regardless of the reason, pack yourself several water bottles and stay hydrated.

3. Uppers and Downers. I know this suggests drugs. But hear me out. You’re not going to get good sleep at a retreat. Period. Even if you splurge on the best bed in the whole joint, your adrenaline kicks in or people are up late laughing and working, or up early, and gabbing through breakfast. Or, if you’re like me, you JUST. CAN’T. SLEEP. Maybe you’re one of the lucky few who does sleep well, no matter the circumstances, but I suggest being prepared to sacrifice some serious shut eye, if you’re headed to a retreat. If not, perhaps a retreat isn’t right for you.

If you’re game for late nights, early mornings, and hitting the keyboard hard, then plan on taking a sleep aid to help you crash when you turn in. I also recommend ear plugs, too. And if you don’t wear those regularly, start wearing them a week or so in advance so they’re like a well worn tennis and mold to you. (Which makes now a good time to point out sleeping in pajamas. Depending on the bunking situation, if you’re used to sleeping in the buff or something you don’t want the others to see you in, start practicing wearing sleepwear to bed. Nothing’s worse than trying to sleep in something uncomfortable when you’re dead tired, with roommates you only met 6 hours ago.)

Next to the sleep aid, you want to consider a pick-me-up. You’re going to need it anywhere from 6 am to 9 pm. When you start to hit that wall, a Dr. Pepper will do you a world of good. I forgot my DP this last go around, and I had generous friends who gave me these ridiculously energy-packed drinks. Monster? I think was the name. Anyway, let me just tell you, I shouldn’t ever be allowed to drink those! Haha! If you know me… Can you imagine me, on coffee or High Voltage Dew? Yeah. It was that crazy. However, I did get 10K words knocked out, so there’s that.

Take what you need that’s safe and legal. Trust me. If you survive without it, then you can tell me all about it in the comments.

And that’s it. Snacks and slippers, headphones and headache meds, everything else aside, these are tips I have to help you be prepared.

If you’re a veteran retreater, what things do you suggest taking, that fall outside the normal vacation/travel gear? Let’s help the newbies out. ( Ps. I know retreater isn’t really a word.)

How Twitter Led to My Best Rejection Letter, To Date

I’ve been wanting to tell this story for a while now. I hope to get all the facts straight since it was back in April. Also, I promise not to beef up the truth of what I’m about to tell you.

A while ago, I was “invited” to participate in a Twitter contest for unpublished authors by a friend via Facebook.

FOR THE LOVE was complete and ready so to speak. It was sitting at 126K words. I was in the process of trying to cut it down. I knew I was still over word count. I had sent out some queries though, to see what would happen, even at a high word count. At that point, all the responses I’d received had been a NO. Not harsh ones, but still, they were rejections.

As a Twitter Newbie for the most part, I’m still trying to get the swing of it. The contest was called #PitchSlam and you only get 140 characters to pitch your book, which has to include the hashtag. {I point this out, because it explains why some times I leave off a letter or get creative.}

I’ve searched and searched my feed, and from what I can tell, I didn’t actually play #PitchSlam. I did, however, play the other contest that was more for fun and linked to the #PitchSlam contest. It was called the #playedby game, where you got to post photos of actors and actresses or other faces who would portray your characters if your book were a movie. Like this:

Somewhat sorry for the bird. FOR THE LOVE’s Sterling would be #playedby Steven R. McQueen, if I had a say.

But in all honesty, I think my most favorite and clever tweet was this one:Twitter 11

In the process, I began researching the agents participating in the contest. I came across an agent that will always hold a special place in my heart. I freaking love him. Dr. Uwe Stender, of TriadaUs Liteary Agency. I wasn’t confident how he pronounced his first name, but I didn’t care. I liked him. His twitter feed was funny, and as I scrolled through it, I came across a tweet that caught my attention like a one of those electric bug zappers. I was drawn to it.

Twitter 8

I quickly scrolled to the top of the page, to see how many followers he had. The answer? 1,994. So I gave his tweet a star, and then commented.

Twitter 10

From there, this funny little rapid-paced conversation of silent stalking and favoriting tweets began. I knew he was watching me, and he knew I was watching him.

As if to egg me on, he tweeted this, and I replied. (You have to read the tweets backwards, sorry.)

Twitter 7

Like I’d be the Random Follower he’d pick. As if! He was just pushing me to follow. I could tell. Haha.

I kept refreshing, and his follower count went up. 1,997. He tweeted again, as you can see below, in regards to random critique giveaway. And you can see my response. Like I said, stubborn.

Twitter 6

What would happen next, I could’ve never guessed.

Twitter 5.5You better believe I was on it like stink to poo. I tweeted back quick.

Twitter 5 I didn’t feed my family. I hollered, “You guys fix yourself a bowl of cereal. I’ve gotta keep working.” To which my kids were like, “What’s new?” Their expressions may or may not have been laced with a few eye rolls and then smiles, as they got free range of the kitchen.

The next thing I did? Clicked the follow button, closing the gap to his goal even more. He hit 2K shortly after, while I was prepping my query letter. In fact, I read this tweet of his before I wrapped up my query. AND THIS IS WHERE YOU NEED TO PAY ATTENTION. BECAUSE THIS TWEET CHANGED HOW I WRAPPED UP MY QUERY. I just didn’t know it yet. Just wait, you’ll see.

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Sorry for the poor photo quality.

I opened a new document, to write up a personalized query letter, as I simultaneously went to his website. I’d been on it earlier, but hadn’t taken a hard look. It was then, that I realized that fantasy wasn’t something he represented. My MS wouldn’t be something he’d pick up. I scrolled down. There, just below his name was Laura Crockett, one of his esteemed colleagues and agents. And yes, she took fantasy. I continued my research, on both of them.

After an hour of reading and searching them up, I began my letter. Even though he’d offered to look at it, I decided it would be best to query him, as if it were for REALS. This is the letter:

Dear Dr. Stender,

First, I wish to thank you for inviting me to share my query with you for simply being enthusiastic! If only my bubbly personality and eagerness were a true superpower. I was scrolling through the agents participating in the #PitchSlam contest when I found you. While the purpose behind your offer is feedback oriented, I do feel inclined to say my query would probably suit Ms. Crockett best with her interested in fantasy. That said, I am more than thrilled to have your sharp eye and expertise on my side and look forward to your feedback.

One by one, Lenox’s family is disappearing. Focused on finding them, he discovers a family secret—he’s a descendant of Cupid. Sounds cute, except the “Father of Love” is a mask worn by the Devil. He seeks to own every soul, robbing mankind of love instead of instilling it, and Lenox is his next target.

Rozlyn Shawnessy plans to enlist in the Society’s war against Cupid—just as soon as her demigod powers kick in. Then Lenox shows up asking dangerous questions, and she answers him with a killer right hook. He retaliates with a passionate kiss, but his touch ignites a crippling curse that lands them both in the Society’s training institute.

Bound together, they must rely on each other to find his family and unlock her curse. If they fail, Cupid will own their souls and enslave them to everything love isn’t.

FOR THE LOVE is my debut novel and is complete at 126,000 words. With brothers separated by more than their differences and Lenox and Rozlyn’s relationship, my story should appeal to both fantasy and romance readers. Thank you for your time and for what it’s worth, I don’t think people will drop you like a hot potato—and being from Idaho, I know what I’m talking about when it comes to spuds.

See that LAST LINE? Funny, personal, and it shows I’m paying attention. But let me assure you, when I wrote it, I was worried it wouldn’t be “cool” or “work.”

I’m proud of myself, that I got my brave on, and just let the verbiage flow naturally, but there’s a fine line between overdoing it and magic. And I had no way of knowing which it would be.

Two days went by. I settled in for a long wait. Forty-eight hours later, I was on the phone with my husband of 14 years. It was an important call regarding the house we were building, and during our discussion, I got a phone call from an 801 number. To me, that’s a Utah number and I have loads of great friends and some family in Utah. They could leave a message. I would call them right back. That’s the beauty of caller ID.

The caller left a message, alright. But I’m a little slow to check messages. Instead, I hopped up and started dinner, which was to be eggs and bacon. While I stirred the runny yokes, I started the process of listening to the voice mails, and of course the kids began fighting over the volume of the TV. It shot up like we were at OneRepublic concert, and I couldn’t quite make out what caller was saying in his message.Totally thought it was spam, especially with the thick German accent. Telemarketer. Yay.

And then when I heard the words FOR THE LOVE come off the lips of Arnold Schwarzenegger, I dropped the phone. It clamored to the floor, thankfully, instead of landing in the raw eggs. I snapped at the kids, as I picked up the phone, and sent them all to their rooms, which they totally deserved.

My heart hammering, I tried to start the message over. Instead, I got a lovely animated voice saying: YOU HAVE NO MESSAGES.

Yeah, I get that. I know I have no new messages. I need the old ones, the ones I didn’t or haven’t listened to, yet. I pressed the button again, to take me back to the main menu, and then tried to play the messages.

YOU HAVE NO MESSAGES. I pulled the eggs off the heat.

YOU HAVE NO MESSAGES. I killed the burner. What? None?

YOU HAVE NO MESSAGES. YOU HAVE NO MESSAGES.

YOU HAVE NO MESSAGES. YOU HAVE NO MESSAGES. YOU HAVE NO MESSAGES. YOU HAVE NO MESSAGES. YOU HAVE NO MESSAGES. YOU HAVE NO MESSAGES. YOU HAVE NO MESSAGES. YOU HAVE NO MESSAGES. YOU HAVE NO MESSAGES.

I started crying. I sunk to the floor, and let the pure panic and sheer what-the-hell? take over. I gulped and gulped trying to compose myself. I tried one more time.

YOU HAVE NO MESSAGES.

Hastily, I called the 801 number back. I had to know what Dr. Uwe had to say, because thus far, all I’d caught was this:

“….Uwe Stender…. calling…. FOR THE LOVE…”

Was the query good? Bad? He’d called, so was that because it was so good he wanted to see more? I thought about that. HE CALLED. Agents don’t call, unless they’ve arranged to make THE CALL, which in my mind is the one to make an offer of representation. Was my query SO GOOD I’d converted him to rep fantasy? No, that’s your ego talking, Gina. 

Okay, then WHY DID HE CALL ME? and how in the heck am I ever going to hear what he had to say? I ran my hand over my face a hundred times, my thoughts all tangling like Christmas lights. New ones lighting up and flickering out.

The 801 number went to an automated voice, saying I couldn’t reach anyone at that number.

The next thing I could think of was to reach out to my “Other Family” as I call them. My online crit group is full of wonderful people, and we’ve become each other’s writing family. I instant messaged the group, and relayed all the gory details of the whole thing–from the first tweet to the phone drop that somehow deleted ALL my messages. Then, I asked, “What do I do?”

Emailing back and asking for his feedback–a second time– felt like saying, “My dog ate my homework,” and agents are BUSY people. I couldn’t bring myself to do that. They don’t have time to repeat themselves.

A combination of two member’s advice blended into a perfect answer. Daniel used his mad skills and found me a phone number direct to TriadaUS Literary. He even called it late that night to if the number was indeed accurate. It was.

Charlie suggested I simply state that I hadn’t received all of the message. No explaining the kids volume or dropping the phone. Be calm, collected, and express that I wanted to improve and would like to hear all of what he had to say.

I went to bed a hot mess, and all morning long was a basket case. I waited until the kids were gone to school, and then I sat myself down. I carefully dialed the number. My palms clammed up, my skin went cold. Ring.

Ring, ring.

Then, voice mail. Haha. I got all worked up over nothing! But I hadn’t prepped to leave a message. Instead of wisely hanging up and thinking of something to say, I went for it. Pretty sure I repeated myself, but oh well.

After ending the call, I agonized over it, and then messaged my Family. They were loving, teasing, and supportive all at the same time. Before I even had time to open my MS for edits, my phone rang.

Dr. Stender called me back. This time I didn’t drop the phone. I’m not sure I breathed the whole time, but I must have, or I’d be dead after our 21 minute conversation. I let him do almost all of the talking. {Now, I know some of you think I’m lying here. I’m not. I know I can’t shut my mouth, but I wanted to hear what he had to say so badly, I couldn’t talk. I had to force myself to speak. Replying to his questions was easier than asking my own, but I managed to squeak out a few. I tried to sound professional and educated when he asked me if I felt my story was more literary or commercial. I had no idea what in the world he was talking about! But I didn’t feel nearly as stupid as I thought I would. Instead, he couldn’t stop complimenting me, my work, and the query. He really, really liked my personalization, and went on about how authors over do it or don’t do it at all, and how I nailed it. So…. MAGIC! Spuds=Magic! *happy dance* I was grinning from ear to ear, I tell ya!

I remember him saying something about it being one of the better queries he’d seen in a while. That the stakes were good, the premise was excellent. That I should absolutely send it on to Laura, his colleague. He was all positive feedback, with the exception of two things.

Thing One. Word count. He was so kind and awesome as we discussed the number. It was this moment that I found the courage to put it on a serious diet.

Thing Two. It was about the query letter itself. Again, he stated that my personalization was excellent. He laughed at my Hot Potato comment, said my voice was awesome. (And he wasn’t referring to my actual voice.) BUT. Because there’s always one…. he wanted me to fix the second paragraph of the actual query. He was all, “You’ve set the stakes in the opening paragraph, and they’re awesome. It’s unique and you’ve got something there. But then you give me a scene. A scene. Then, in the third paragraph, you’re back to the stakes. And those stakes are strong. BUT GIVE ME THE STAKES in the second paragraph. STAKES, STAKES, STAKES. That’s what I want. GIVE ME THE STAKES.”

The way he showed me how he saw the query letter from his vantage point was interesting, and eye opening. It was just what I needed to hear.

In the end, I couldn’t get enough of his German accent telling me what to do. I loved it. The way he spoke to me was like he was my personal coach. That invested. I didn’t want our call to end. He wrapped up with all those awesome compliments about how solid it was, encourage me once again to send it Laura and then we parted ways.

I sat on the couch, unable to move. I was shaking and exited. I was worried I couldn’t cut  another six thousand out of the story. And worst of all, I wasn’t sure what the stakes were for that second paragraph. I was going to have to dig deeper.

Turns out, it was the best thing that I could’ve done to my query, and my MS.

I teamed up with a friend, Rachel Larsen, and together, we did some rapid fire editing on each others manuscripts. I cut stuff, and stitched the pieces together, if it left a hole. I removed an entire scene, which was very hard to do. The like. Editing is hard. My friend Jeigh said, “Think of it like fine surgery, not a chop shop.” Or something good like that. All I remember is the FINE SURGERY part. I could do this.

And I didn’t look at my overall word count. Not until I was closer to the end. Some chapters, I managed to remove 2K. Other’s only 500 words. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it.

Until, I did.

I reworked that second paragraph, again and again. Until it felt all “stakey,” as I now call it.

And then, days before the 2015 LDStorymakers conference, I wrapped all the edits up. I had a newer version of my query. And when I complied my MS, I found I had cut it down to 116K words–more than I thought possible. I was overwhlemed with the workload I had completed, and I desperately wanted to call Dr. Stender back, and tell him, “I did it.”

But I didn’t do that. Instead, I relied on a tweet that I’d sent to him just a few days after that phone call. That would have to be thanks enough for now.

twitter 3

Then, I went to the conference, and I pitched FOR THE LOVE to Lizzie Poteet and Kenna Blaylock. I had dinner with Susie Townsend.

A week later, I sent out the requested material, and then sat down to my laptop with a humble reverence. I opened a new document, and started another query letter. This one to Laura Crockett.

Of course I checked her Twitter feed. {I still do. I still watch Uwe’s.} I put the same energy into that query that I did when I queried Dr. Stender.

Based on her feed, she was headed to BEA2015. After I sent the query out, I got an automated response that she was out of the office until Monday, and I knew why and where she was. I sat back, not expecting anything. I went back to my daily routine.

And you know what?

She replied to me, while she was at BEA. My query letter got through. It made it through her slush pile, while she was at Book Expo of America! And not only did it get through, but she asked to see pages. Fifty of them. SCORE ONE FOR TEAM GINA! I attribute this to the fact that Dr. Stender’s name was in my query to her. If she thought me a liar, all she had to do was ask him. So don’t ever make this kind of stuff up for a query letter. You hear me? Be authentic. Be honest. And above all, be real.

And a few days after that, I received what I call  My Best Rejection Letter. Wanna see it? Okay. Here it is. The moment you’ve all be waiting for.

Dear Gina,
Thank you for sharing a sample of For the Love. First, some personal items — congratulations on the house! And your query is tight and professional and concise. I don’t know what it looked like before Uwe offered his advice, but it looks great and makes you stand out from the rest. Second, the manuscript. I wanted to enjoy it — you were right that our preferences align — but I found the narrative wasn’t for me. The writing is polished and ready for publication, and the plotting (from what I could gather in 50 pages) is excellent. For the Love simply isn’t the project for me. I’ve no doubt you’ll find the right agent for it soon, especially when you’re armed with a killer query and a ready-for-the-press manuscript in hand. 
Best of luck,
Laura

I still think about this letter, and what she had to say. How it impacted me for the better. I can almost hear her cheering me on, and I haven’t got the slightest clue what her voice sounds like. Sure, it’s crushing to be told no, but when you get a NO like this one, you just keep going. You lift your chin a little higher and trust you’re doing just fine. You trust that agents aren’t big ole Mean Girls or Nasty Playboys looking to ruin your day. They’re smart, and human, and not beyond the author’s reach, if you do it right.

So, tweet on. Don’t be afraid to use social media to your advantage, and for reals, keep going.